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“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” reviewed

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” reviewed (photo)

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Director Tomas Alfredson‘s last film was the unorthodox vampire story “Let the Right One In,” a title that would also fit Alfredson’s new film, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” This adaptation of the famous John le Carré novel is set in the world of British Intelligence circa the 1970s, but it’s less about espionage than it is about trust. “Tinker Tailor” is all about letting the right ones in: the right spy, the right friend, the right lover. This is a smart and impeccably crafted film, but its tone is so bleakly cynical and its characters are so stingy about revealing their allegiances of heart and country, that the audience gets left out in the cold along with the disavowed field agents.

The icy center of this chilly affair is George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a lifer at England’s MI:6 (a.k.a. The Circus) until a mission in Hungary goes belly up and Smiley and the master of The Circus, Control (John Hurt), are forcibly retired. After Control passes away, Smiley is recruited to spy on the spies: there’s a mole somewhere in MI:6, and it’s up to Smiley and a small team of men to figure out who it is (the title is a play on the code names of the four main suspects).

The men of le Carré’s Circus, who were inspired by the author’s own time working in British Intelligence, will never be confused for James Bond, not even the “scalphunters” like Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) who actually perform tasks besides sitting around in soundproofed conferences rooms. They’re backbiting bureaucrats, office drones, scheming adulterers, and above all, paunchy middle-aged schlubs with terrible haircuts. They own drab houses and throw lame Christmas parties. Of course this is what real spies must look like. It would be awfully hard to infiltrate an enemy country with a flamboyantly chiseled eight-pack and an Aston Martin that transforms into a nuclear submarine.

But while Smiley and his people make wonderful secret agents, they don’t make ideal film protagonists. They’re so remote and unreadable that there’s no suspense, let alone drama, in their mole hunt. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” isn’t really a thriller at all. Alfredson and screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan are much more interested in exploring the minutia of day-to-day life in The Circus than in supplying genre entertainment, and as a dreary slice of life about people living in a state of perpetual unease, “Tinker Tailor”‘s a qualified success — with the qualification being it’s an awfully sluggish one.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who enjoyed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” It has one of the very best ensembles of any film this year (the stellar British cast includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Toby Jones) and the period details of 1970s London, all of them seemingly shot through a haze of Lucky Strikes smoke, look incredible. Oldman is suitably inscrutable as Smiley, and you’ll have some fun just studying his unreadable face and trying to figure out what the hell he’s thinking. But personally, I wanted “Tinker Tailor” to feel more alive. I understand that it’s about the heavy toll the Cold War spy game took on the people who played it. I just wish it didn’t take such a heavy toll on the viewer’s patience. In this case, it’s not about letting the right one in; the movie itself never even lets you get that close.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is in theaters now. If you see it, let us know what you think. Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…